While visiting Southern California to speak on the history of the English Bible several years ago, I found myself seated next to a total stranger in the hotel restaurant. We exchanged pleasantries, including what had brought each of us to town on that particular weekend. When he learned of my speaking topic, he became curious. He wanted to know why there had been no additions to the Bible after all these years. In other words, why are we still using the same Bible instead of some updated—or even replacement—volume?
It’s an especially important question for a fellowship that has historically claimed to be a people of the Book. Will we continue to be so? Is the Bible still worthy of our attention, even our devotion? One of the historic mottoes of the Restoration Movement claims “we have no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” Another insists that we will “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” Are we still willing to let the Bible exercise that kind of authority over our faith and practice?
There are some who are emphatic that we ought not to be a “people of the Book.” Jesus Christ is Lord, and our devotion is to him, not to a book. To allow the Bible to be the final authority on faith and practice, they say, usurps the authority of Jesus. We make an idol of the Bible, they say, when we allow it to have such authority.
While we do not want anyone or anything to take the place of Jesus, this charge is baseless. In fact, a failure to accept the Bible as the final rule of faith and practice is to fail to submit to the Lordship of Christ, of the real Christ, anyway. How will we know Jesus without the Bible? What other source provides any details of his life and work, of his teaching? The so-called search for the historical Jesus is doomed to failure if the Bible’s testimony is not accepted as true and accurate. Attempts by some scholars to purge from Scripture words that have been attributed to Jesus but that he supposedly never said are based on the scholars’ own presuppositions. These scholars themselves become the authority that previously was granted to the Bible.
In fact, we cannot know Christ, we cannot worship him as the Son of God, without accepting the Bible as an authoritative source for information about him. That applies not just to the Gospels, but to the entirety of Scripture, for the truth about Christ is woven throughout both testaments. B. B. Warfield (1887–1921) put it well in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible:
We may say that without a Bible we might have had Christ and all that he stands for to our souls. Let us not say that this might not have been possible. But neither let us forget that, in point of fact, it is to the Bible that we owe it that we know Christ and are found in him . . . Whatever might possibly have been had there been no Bible, it is actually to the Bible that you and I owe it that we have a Christ—a Christ to love, to trust and to follow.
What is true of our information about Christ “had there been no Bible” is equally true if we ignore the Bible we have.
Recently, many have been taken in by a teaching that denigrates the place of the Bible in the life of believers. These writers blend new age thought with traditional Christian teaching. The result is a pseudo-Christianity that claims believers can simply get their own direct revelation from God. Who needs the Bible when God gives you information directly? Taking Scriptures out of context, they make their teaching appear to be Bible-based. But the natural result of such teaching is to diminish the role of Scripture. Sarah Young, author of the wildly popular Jesus Calling, admits the Bible was not enough for her. While she acknowledges that God spoke to her through Scripture, she says she “yearned for more.” She wanted to hear God speak to her personally; and that is what she claims for her writings—that God has directly given her the message, which has been printed into a “devotional” that people can read—the way people used to read the Bible! And it’s not just her messages that come from God; supposedly we can all have God speak to us in this way. Perhaps we need to chant a mantra or enter a labyrinth or practice some other eastern mystery-religion practice, but a variety of writers, published by trusted Christian publishers, are claiming we can receive direct revelation from God without the Bible.
The fact that the Bible is the product of divine revelation and inspiration makes it uniquely qualified to be our final rule of faith and practice. The Bible claims that role for itself. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). If the Scripture makes the servant of God “thoroughly equipped for every good work,” then nothing else is needed. Peter adds, “You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21). A message from God has God’s authority. It has one message, but the messages of those who claim to hear God speak outside the Bible are many and varied; they are contradictory. Clearly, they cannot all be legitimate “revelations.” They cannot all be a result of “Jesus calling.” In the face of such confusion, Christians need an authoritative word from the Lord. They need to be a “people of the Book”!
Timely and Timeless
Some people are concerned that the Bible does not speak in the scientific language of today. They believe that the message must be outdated since the language seems to be so. It’s true that the Bible uses the language of its time; what else could it use? It was a timely message, relevant to those who received it. But the language is also timeless. To say the sun rises and sets, for example, is not scientifically precise, but it is a picturesque means of communicating what happens when the earth revolves on its axis. The Bible uses such language because scientific language is not always understood from one age to the next. But the truth remains. The Bible’s timeless message has been written in timely fashion. A people of the book will discern its message in this century as they did in previous centuries. And, if the Lord tarries, they will continue to discern it into the next century.
If we would follow the Lord Jesus, we must be a people of the Book. The Bible is God’s inspired Word, a reliable guide for faith and practice today. To share the message of God’s love and saving grace with a world that needs to hear it, the Bible is our only authoritative source.
Jonathan Underwood is chaplain at the Christian Village at Mt. Healthy in Cincinnati, Ohio. He previously spent 33 years as an editor at Standard Publishing, including several years as senior editor of the Standard Lesson Commentary and related curriculum. He has served as minister or interim minister at several churches in the Cincinnati area and currently leads The Lookout’s new scope and sequence team.